There is no separation between what is felt physically or emotionally in the body. Keeping that in mind, extreme emotional trauma can cause physical symptoms. What it doesn’t mean is that it is all "in your head", it is real! Strong emotions cause physiological changes in our bodies, especially when we are under stress. The need to fight or the need to run away causes chemical changes in our bodies to prepare us to do either. If the body is constantly under stress, our bodies can get stuck in the fight or flight mode. Acupuncture releases emotions stuck in the body - this frequently happens during the treatment itself but may occur in the 24 hours following treatment.
Here are some clues that there might be something emotional going on:
Pain that moves around or symptoms that do not have a medical explanation. Did your symptoms that start around the time of a traumatic event? Or are you experiencing common symptoms such as chest tightness, stomach aches, nausea, headaches, tight muscles or trouble sleeping? Frequently when these types of symptoms show up with no other explanation it can be a clue that they are stemming from emotional causes. The good news is acupuncture can help! We very often see patients who have had every medical test available with no answer to why they are feeling so poorly and we can help these folks.
Most people walk around with their head disconnected from their body; not aware of what’s going on until their symptoms are so prominent that they can no longer be ignored. The trick is to pay attention to what your body is saying and take action before symptoms are out of control. Building awareness takes practice! Sometimes we train ourselves to not pay attention to pain occurring in the body. This includes those who are athletic, or those who are recovering from any type of trauma. It is common for athletes and others to “push through the pain” until all current and future symptoms are ignored. Chronic symptoms can actually teach us a lot about our bodies and that we need to change our behaviors.
Most behavior changes are simple! Such as going to bed earlier or saying no to a request that has a potential to drain your energy. It can also take the form of monitoring your diet for food sensitivities. Chronic problems may never disappear completely, so acceptance is the key to changing your perspective on how you approach the relationship with your body.
Noticing how our bodies respond to different situations can be useful to determine if that is a healthy situation or behavior. For instance, if you notice stomach upset or constipation after eating dairy products, that is a clue that dairy products are not compatible with your body! Or, if you notice your anxiety spiking after staying up late the evening before it is definitely your body’s way of telling you to go to bed earlier. Paying attention to clues such as these can help you avoid major health problems down the road.
Sometimes getting to the root of the symptom is difficult. There may not be a noticeable link between an emotional origin and a physical symptom, but that may be why you are experiencing one. It is worth talking to someone and getting outside perspective to see if a physical symptom has an emotional origin. For example, if several symptoms started suddenly three months ago, think about what was going on in your life at the time for clues. The clues may be obvious to someone else, but it can be difficult to figure out on your own.
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Losing weight is a personal health goal. You can be healthy at any size. While a healthy body weight is important it is not the whole story. Research shows a person's level of activity is more important than their body weight. A skinny person who is sedentary may be less healthy than someone who exercises regularly but has a few extra pounds. Shaming and talking down to yourself that you need to lose weight or else does not help- it can in fact make things worse. And certainly blaming every health problem or ache or pain you have on your body weight doesn't help either- even skinny people and athletic people can suffer from chronic health problems!
A lot of people need to feel better before they can tackle the lifestyle change and dedication necessary to achieve lasting weight loss. And that's ok. Acupuncture can help you get there if weight loss is your goal, and if its not- that's ok too. How does acupuncture help with weight loss? Acupuncture helps to balance hormones, improve digestion, increase motivation, reduce sugar cravings, improve sleep and relieve the stress that results in emotional eating. Every patient is different but what we find is that for most patients we are working on a several different areas to help them achieve their goals.
Think about the people you spend the most time with. Are they adding to or subtracting from your life? Is there anyone who, after you interact with them, you feel consistently drained or negative? Everyone has bad days, but do you have someone in your life who is always complaining?If you have energy vampires around you, maybe consider addition by subtraction. Sometimes boundaries have to be set for people you interact with to keep them from sucking your emotional energy.
Most of us do not have unlimited energy and we need to be careful how we give our energy away and who we give it to. Be selective with who gets your time. We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. We don’t have control over who we must interact with like family or co-workers or a boss.
The people we spend our time with are important. Its helpful to surround yourself with positive, supportive people especially when you are trying to make a life changes. Having an accountability buddy, someone with similar goals that you can check in with can help you reach your goals. Having a buddy with similar goals can also help protect you when you fall down. When you are also in charge of keeping someone else accountable it helps you stick to your goals, too.
Its also good to take some time to reflect on what kind of friend you are. Are you supportive of your friends? Are you there for them when they need you? Do you emotionally dump on them without giving in return? As women sometimes we have difficulty being direct or asking for what we want. Are you being passive aggressive or are you not feeling heard? There is always room for self-reflection and improvement for all of us.
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I get it. Water tastes bad and it is boring. But before you pour some sugary flavor into your water or drink another diet soda, let me share some awesome things about water. First of all water is plentiful and it is free. It is readily available and it has zero calories. 60% of your body is water and 90% of our blood is water- that is alot of water! The benefits of drinking water, besides keeping you alive, is it helps your skin look fantastic, flushes out toxins, maintains our body temperature and helps digestion. Water also helps maintain blood pressure, helps with asthma and allergies and prevents muscle cramps and soreness.
Are you drinking enough water? Signs of dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, headaches, irritability, trouble concentrating and muscle cramps. Aim to drink ½ your body weight in ounces, more if its hot outside.
To adjust your taste buds, get used to drinking water by diluting other drinks until you get used to it. Once you adjust your taste it is actually delicious. If you are trying to get off of soda try seltzer, a squeeze of lemon or lime or some fresh mint leaves. Comment below with your favorite way to drink water!
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Most people start an exercise routine for weight loss, but there are many other benefits. Try to look at exercise as a gift to yourself and weight loss being a nice side effect. It will take the pressure off and make it more fun, and more fun means you are more likely to do it and stick with it.
If you are focused on weight loss, remember all the other reasons exercise is beneficial, this will help you stick to your goals. Exercise relieves stress, lowers the risk of chronic diseases and also provides some much needed “me time”.
Keep it simple and make it fun. Be sure to wear good socks and shoes and make an appointment with yourself. Put it in your calendar. Do it first thing in the morning, on your lunch break or even after dinner. It can be as simple as going on a walk or doing some yoga. If you’re walking or running, consider listening to your favorite music or an audiobook. You can even call a friend to catch up! Other ideas include the tons of videos and classes on YouTube or Zoom for everything from dancing to kickboxing. Aim for 3x a week, but for the first month, just aim to make it a habit. Comment below with your favorite form of exercise!
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Actually I’m going to give you more than one because I love to over-deliver for you all. I’m giving these tips not because of Covid-19 but because we can all benefit from making sure our immune system is working optimally. Regular colds, flus and other pathogens are always out there, do what you can to keep your body’s defense system in tip top shape. This doesn’t have to be complicated, try these simple things:
Adequate sleep. For most people this is 7-9 hours a night. To get good sleep shut off your phone and news sources 2 hours before your bedtime and make sure your room is cool and dark.
Regular exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes 3 times per week. Work up a sweat.
Supplements: fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin C all help to boost the immune system. In my house we do an extra dose at the first sign of any sniffles.
Super foods: live, probiotic and fermented foods like sauerkraut. Avoid sugary yogurt.
What difference does this make for you? Please comment below because I would love to know.
The most productive use of time and energy is finding something important and meaningful to you to focus on.
We have limited time and energy, use it on what is actually important to you.
Every life has problems, make those good problems.
Finding meaning in your life will give you the motivation and energy to power through your problems.
There is so much information and resources available we don’t know what to give a f*ck about anymore.
The desire for a more positive experience is in itself a negative experience. Acceptance of your negative experience is a positive experience.
Accepting your life as great is the number one thing you can do for your happiness.
Life is short, everyone is going to die including you. You only have a limiting amount of f*cks to give.
Learn how to focus on prioritize your thoughts and energy on your personal values. This is very difficult.
Figure out what your personal values are.
When a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some.
It’s ok for things to suck some of the time.
Problems don’t stop, they are either exchanged or upgraded.
Happiness is found in solving problems, not avoiding them because they are inevitable.
We get extremes of information from the media, especially social media and this skews our view of reality.
Comparison is the thief of joy - Teddy Roosevelt
The person who believes they know everything learns nothing.
People who are terrified of what other people think about they are actually afraid of all the negative things they think about themselves being reflected back at them.
Comment below with your biggest takeaway!
My kids ask me questions all the time. How do they change the scary stuff inside the haunted house at Funland in Rehoboth? Which of my Pokemon is your favorite? Can you get me a bandaid? Want to have a tea party? Can I do this messy glue project on the floor of your bedroom? I revel in the simplicity of their lives: what we're having for dinner, when is swimming lessons, do I really have to share my granola bar with my sister. Their questions are so easy and they usually center around permission to do things. How to act and what to do is pretty cut and dry: here are the rules, you follow them. Simple, right?
Then we grow up of course and we realize that in many situations there are no "right answers". When faced with a decision there is no way to go back later and see what would have happened if we made a different choice. Experience helps but no amount of experience can issue a guarantee. The phrase "everything happens for a reason" sounds great, but is this simply a way to make ourselves feel better about the course of events that we have zero control over? Are we grasping to find reason after the fact in order to gain acceptance? To neatly compartmentalize in order to move out of the past? After spending countless hours thinking and discussing these and similar questions I have to conclude: I don't know. Its a process of understanding and self-awareness that takes a lifetime.
And because these "no right answer" scenarios are part of life we are faced with making tough decisions. Not doing anything is a decision too. Not knowing what to do is a situation I find myself in fairly often. I am frequently in the space of "figuring out what to say and how to act". Sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes days or even weeks. This process can be painful and emotional. Sometimes its easy. I want to discuss what to do when its painful and emotional. Here is what works for me.
PS. You can do this. I promise.
What works for you?
You walk into the treatment room and see everyone else either asleep with their mouths open or peaceful and still with their eyes closed, maybe listening to their own music on their headphones. They look so relaxed! You can barely sit still in the chair for 30 minutes and definitely DO NOT feel like sleeping. Hell, you can barely sleep at night or sit still to watch tv. There is laundry to be folded, dishes to be washed, homework to be done, emails to be answered, groceries to be shopped for, etc etc etc etc. It doesn't end. Who has time to relax? That's for lazy people anyway. Hey you, I totally get it because this is kind of me.
Sometimes people have a hard time relaxing while they get acupuncture treatment. First of all, it's OK. I promise. The acupuncture is still working. Whether you fall asleep or not is zero indication as to efficacy of the treatment. You are not failing at acupuncture. You do not suck at acupuncture. You are not the 1 special person it's not working for while it works for everyone else. Your body is just stuck in a habit of go-go-go and its going to take a minute for your body to do something different. And that is OK.
Sometimes sitting still is scary. That's OK too. You are not alone. You are safe here. And we have tissues if you need them.
Here is my advice. Put your phone away. Put the book or magazine away. These things just re-stimulate your brain and our goal is to shut your brain off. Don't keep turning it back on. Let your mind wander. Some people find it helpful to focus on their breathing. You can do that but you don't have to. You can't fail at this. The success is in taking the time for yourself to coax your bodymindspirit to do something its not used to. Changing a habit is hard. It takes many intentional acts before momentum kicks in and the cycle starts to build on itself and take over and become a routine to maintain. This is why it takes "30 days to form a habit". Us human beings are highly adaptable but it takes a little time for the adaptation to happen and this is a good thing because if it didn't we would be all over the place.
Give it time. Have patience with yourself. I talk to my kids all the time about working their "patience muscle" when they want me to do the thing RIGHT NOW, usually when I'm driving, wiping the other child's butt or I'm in the shower. Are we wired this way or is it a result of our society of instant gratification? I don't know but the point is that no one wants to wait. Our bodies and our lives don't have any light switches though. You can't turn on the switch to lose 50lbs, get pregnant, go to sleep, meet your soulmate, do 25 pull ups or memorize a piano concerto. Be easy with yourself and your body. You are not a failure, you're a work in progress. What counts is regular practice, regular treatment, being pointed in the general direction of where you want to go and making tiny steps to get there or at least closer. You might even have some fun and a few surprises along the way.
Progress might be small, regular and incremental or there might be nothing for a while and then suddenly everything at once. Everyone is different. Context is important too. If you are going through major life stuff it might be unrealistic to expect to be completely zen right in the middle of it all- especially in the beginning. But being able to take a couple of deep breaths, peace out in a chair for 30 minutes with needles once or twice a week and finding the time to take a quick walk can make all the difference. This is the balm to keep you going, to get you through with as few scrapes as possible. You can do it, I have faith in you. Just keep at it. It works if you work it, so work it, you're worth it. <3
Meaghan Massella, M.Ac, L.Ac, Dipl. Ac (NCCAOM) is an acupuncturist, business owner and mother of 2.